Pesticide and pharmaceutical giant Bayer is facing approximately 18,400 U.S. lawsuits from individuals alleging that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide, caused them to develop cancer.1 The retail giants Home Depot and Lowe's are also being hit by glyphosate's health risks, as two proposed class-action lawsuits have been filed over the companies' lack of warnings to their customers.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) determined that glyphosate is a "probable carcinogen" in 2015. In August 2018, jurors ruled Monsanto (which was taken over by Bayer in June 2018) must pay $289 million in damages to DeWayne "Lee" Johnson, a former school groundskeeper who claimed the company's herbicide Roundup caused his terminal cancer.2
The award was later slashed to $78 million,3 but it signaled the beginning of a running trend in Roundup cancer lawsuits. The next two verdicts also sided with the plaintiffs, including a $2 billion payout in the third case, which was later slashed to $20 million, from $75 million in punitive damages.4 Whether or not retailers can be held liable for not warning consumers about this probable carcinogen may soon be determined by the upcoming class-action suits.
Home Depot, Lowes sued over lack of Roundup warnings
Plaintiff James Weeks filed two proposed class-action lawsuits against Home Depot and Lowes, alleging that the retail outlets did not do their duty to warn consumers about cancer and exposure risks when using glyphosate-based products. Retailers are given a safety data sheet (SDS) regarding glyphosate, which states that exposure can occur via inhalation or skin contact. According to Sustainable Pulse, Weeks' complaint states:5
"Despite its knowledge of the SDS, defendant does not warn consumers they may be exposed to glyphosate through inhalation and skin contact. Defendant further omits proper use instructions, e.g. advising consumers to use a gas mask respirator when using Roundup."
The complaint also alleges that, due to glyphosate's "probable carcinogenic nature," Home Depot was in violation of California's Consumer Legal Remedies Act by not disclosing the cancer risk on the label.6 The warning label on Roundup is also deemed inadequate because it only warns of "moderate eye irritation."
This, the complaint notes, gives a false impression that eye irritation is the only risk when using Roundup, when in fact it could potentially cause cancer and other health risks. The suit further alleges:7,8
"Roundup's labeling provides certain warnings, such as, "Keep Out of Reach of Children" and "Caution." But the only identified hazard identified is that it may cause "moderate eye irritation …
This warning gives the false impression eye irritation is the only risk posed by Roundup, when in fact, glyphosate is known to have links to cancer … Defendant thus fails to warn consumers of the potential carcinogenic risks of using Roundup …
Defendant's conduct is especially egregious considering it also fails to include proper use instructions for Roundup … Reasonable consumers, like Plaintiff, who have purchased Roundup would not have done so had they known of its carcinogenic risks, or had Defendant provided a warning on how to minimize these risks."